Where were you in ’62?

Before they were enemies, Charles Xavier and Magneto worked together to gather fellow mutants and save the human race.

The human race proved less than appreciative.

Title: X-Men: First Class

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer.

Cast

James McAvoy as Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto
Kevin Bacon as Sebastian
Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggert
Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique
January Jones as Emma Frost
Nicolas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast
Zoe Kravitz as Angel Salvadore
Lucas Till as Alex Summers/Havoc
Caleb Landry Jones as Sean Cassidy/Banshee
Edi Gathegi as Armando Munoz/Darwin
Glenn Morshower as Colonel Hendry
Matt Craven as McCane
Jason Flemyng as Azazel
Alex Gonzalez as Riptide

Full Cast and Crew information is here.

Premise:

This has been called a reboot of the series, but it really does work as a prequel. It’s just that it’s very much in the Hollywood tradition (think James Bond, Planet of the Apes, and the Universal Monster Movies), where sequels and prequels only loosely observe continuity. (Of course, it pays even less attention to the comic-book canon, so some of the more obsessive fans may have issues from the outset).

In 1962, the new X-Men find themselves embroiled in the Cuban Missile Crisis—which, it turns out, is part of a mutant’s plot to destroy homo sapiens and make the world safe for mutantkind.

High Points:

1. The X-Men have always gestured towards any number of disadvantaged groups—sometimes effectively, and sometimes clumsily. A few scenes in this film will resonate very clearly with any number of groups and cultures who felt themselves restricted, limited, or used by the superpower during the Cold War.

Many of these have since taken Magneto’s path.

2. The film could go further with its Bondesque feel and sixties setting, but it is enough. The use of a historic backdrop and a slightly different tone for superhero stories both have much to recommend. Bring on Captain America, and set the first Wonder Woman film, whenever they get that one going again, in the 1940s.

Low Points:

1. The earlier films had a sense of humour and skewered self-awareness going for them. The gags here largely fall flat, while the in-jokes (Charles comments that he might go bald now that he’s a professor) barely seem worth the effort. One cameo appearance works passably well, but even it plays as a little forced. The film also tends heavily towards the cheesy in its later scenes.

2. It’s an American action movie. The Black guy dies.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 It’s a fairly fresh take for the series and it opens the door to a number of stories that could be told in different eras with, perhaps, more familiar mutants.

Effects: 5/6 The effects generally work well, and don’t tend to overwhelm the story. The Beast’s post-transformation make-up looks a little too much like a Halloween costume, and viewers should expect the usual effects that look cool, but feature dubious physics.

Story: 4/6 The film tells an interesting story, and one that (given that we’re watching a comic book movie) has a little more plausibility than its predecessors. It is marred by a few plot holes. Nothing here quite matches the delayed use of power in the last X-Men film, but three of the character act in ways that, while defensible, seem largely motivated by the need to have the story continue.

Acting: 5/6 The film features strong performances.

Production: 5/6 The film may not have quite the budget of the earlier franchise entries, but it still boasts fine production values. January Jones’ associates over at Mad Men, however, might have given the filmmakers a few tips on recreating the early 1960s.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 4/6 The film’s pacing is as uneven as its recreation of the early 1960s, but the film brings an interesting James Bond element to the Marvel mutant saga, and gives us an original look at Professor X and Magneto.

In total, X-Men: First Class receives 31/42.